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With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Tight Ends
2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: Entering 2019, the Giants and their fans were hoping that 3rd-year player and former 1st-round draft pick Evan Engram would finally make it through a full season and break out with a 1,000+ receiving year. Alas that was not to be as Engram suffered both foot and knee injuries that caused him to miss half the season. In all, Engram played in just eight games in 2019 with six starts, catching 44 passes for 467 yards and three touchdowns. This was after Engram missed five games in 2018 with knee and hamstring injuries.
Making matters worse for New York was that Engram’s primary back-up, Rhett Ellison, suffered a serious concussion in Week 10 and missed the last six games of the season. Ellison accrued his lowest numbers in a Giants’ uniform, just 18 catches for 167 yards and one touchdown.
Scott Simonson badly injured his ankle in the preseason finale, was cut from Injured Reserve in September, and re-signed to the 53-man roster in November. But Simonson was placed on IR again in December with a concussion. He played in five games in 2019 with one start, catching just two passes for 11 yards. Garrett Dickerson split time between the Practice Squad and the 53-man roster, but did not have a catch.
The only real positive at this position in 2019 was the emergence of rookie Kaden Smith. The Giants claimed Smith off of waivers from the San Francisco 49ers in September. (He was a 6th round pick for the 49ers). Smith surprisingly became a significant contributor after the bye week when injuries started to hit the tight end position hard. Smith played in nine games with six starts, and finished the season with 31 catches for 268 yards (8.6 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. He also did a nice job in the blocking department.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Scott Simonson was cut in February. Rhett Ellison retired from football in March. Evan Engram, Kaden Smith, and Garrett Dickerson return.
The Giants added four new bodies, including veteran free agents Levine Toilolo (49ers) and Eric Tomlinson (Raiders) as well as rookie free agents Kyle Markway and Rysen John.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The Giants picked up the 5th-year option on Engram in late April, meaning he will be under contract through the 2021 season. However, stating the obvious, this is a critical season for the injury-plagued Engram. He has to prove he can be reliably productive, and you can’t do that if you aren’t playing. And when Engram has played, he has frustratingly alternated between signs of becoming an impact player as a receiving tight end and disappearing for long stretches. As any Giants fan painfully knows, Jason Garrett’s offense relies heavily on tight end play. And Joe Judge preaches about putting players in the best positions to succeed, which would suggest that Engram may see less in-line blocking and be used more heavily in the receiving game. If Engram can’t do it in year four, it may be best for the team to part ways with him.
Kaden Smith’s development will be interesting to watch. He’s not a great athlete, but he did the job when called upon last year despite his limited experience (VIDEO). His upside is the big question mark.
It’s pretty telling that Gettleman and Judge signed two big, run-blocking tight ends in free agency. Now on his fourth NFL team, Levine Toilolo is massive (6’8”, 268 pounds) and figures to be the most physical blocking tight end in this offense. Eric Tomlinson is on his sixth NFL team, and second stint with the Giants. He’s another big man (6’6”, 263 pounds). Neither player will really threaten NFL defenses in the passing game, but their very presence may indicate a renewed emphasis on being physical up front with the running game.
ON THE BUBBLE: One would think that Evan Engram and Levine Toilolo have the inside shots with Engram representing the receiving threat and Toilolo the blocker. If Kaden Smith can continue to develop, he has an excellent shot to make the roster as well. The best hope for each of the others may be for the team to carry four tight ends, but that’s not a given.
PREDICTIONS: I predicted 1,000-yard seasons for Evan Engram in 2018 and 2019. What’s the old saying? Fool me twice? The guy drives me nuts. Week 1: 11 catches and 116 yards and a touchdown against Dallas. Week 3: 6 catches and 113 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, against Tampa Bay. Then he’ll have one catch for six yards against the Cardinals in Week 7 and miss half of the rest of the year with multiple injuries.
I think Judge and Garrett will understand Engram’s strengths and weaknesses and we will see less in-line blocking from him. That should reduce the wear-and-tear as well as increase his receiving chances. I’m not going to predict anything with him in terms of his final numbers this year. Another boast would sound meaningless at this point. He’s got to prove to everyone he can stay on the football field.
I suspect Levine Toilolo will become a very important cog in the offense this year, not as a receiver, but as the primary in-line blocking tight end. That should help both rookie Andrew Thomas and veteran Nate Solder at tackle. And Saquon Barkley should receive the immediate dividends. I want to get really excited about Kaden Smith, but he still has a lot to prove. Fans may have overrated his play last year simply because he looked like the most reliable two-way guy on the roster, which isn’t saying much.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Evan Engram, Levine Toilolo, Kaden Smith, Kyle Markway
One of the reasons I am going with four is that I don’t think Engram is a true in-line tight end and more of a TE/WR hybrid. So the Giants still need three guys who can block in-line. Toilolo and Smith are the obvious guesstimates in May. Rysen John is another hybrid type who is very, very green. His best shot is probably the Practice Squad. Garrett Dickerson has hung around since 2018 and has some athletic ability, but he’s got to be really on the bubble. I think Eric Tomlinson and Kyle Markway are fighting for that final roster spot. Markway reminds me of Rhett Ellison, a jack-of-all trades type (tight end, H-Back, fullback) who doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty. I suspect the coaches will like him a lot.